Book Review: “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless

38507412._SY475_In English history, the story of the royal families tends to capture the imagination of those who study it. Full of dynamic tales of kings and queens, and numerous nobles, these are tales that make it into history books and history classes. We tend to focus on the same kings and queens, who have become the popular royals. But what about those who are left in the dust of those popular royals? Who were the royal women who lived in the shadow of the throne that time has forgotten? What were the lives of these women like? It is these women who are the focus of Erin Lawless’s latest book, “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book initially caught my eye and I really wanted to see what royal women Erin Lawless would be discussing in this particular book.

Lawless has decided to write about thirty different royal women, from Scota to Princess Charlotte, covering several centuries of vivacious women. Some of these women I have encountered in my own studies, like Margaret Pole, Margaret Tudor, Eleanor Cobham, and Mary Grey( who are obviously women from the Tudor dynasty). Others were women that I have never heard of, like Gwellian ferch Gryffydd and Isabella MacDuff, who lead armies for their respective countries, Wales and Scotland respectfully, to fight against the English. Grace O’Malley, also known as Granuaile, who was Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the O Maille clan, and a pirate from Tudor Ireland. And of course, plenty of royal women who married for love and suffered the consequences.

These tales are truly tantalizing, yet they are tragically too short as Lawless only spends a few pages on each woman. Just as you are starting to really get into the story, you move onto another lady and her history. It may seem a little bit unfair, but I think it should be noted that Lawless did this with a rather important purpose behind it. Lawless wanted to give an introduction to the lives of these women, both the fictional tales and the facts so that readers would be intrigued and decide to study more about them. It’s a great strategy to get more people interested in studying the obscure and forgotten royal women in history. Of course, I wanted more details, but that is because I love having a plethora of information about a subject in books that I read, yet in this case, I think the amount of details works in Lawless’s favor.

The one thing that I really wish Lawless did include was a bibliography or a list of books that helped her with her own research when it came to this book. I really like seeing an author’s research in the back of biographies or history books, especially for a book that covers different topics, so that I can have a starting point for my own personal research.

Overall, I found this book incredibly enjoyable. It is certainly a conversation starter for those who discuss the English monarchy. Lawless has a delightful writing style that feels like you are having a casual history conversation with her. This book is small in size, but it could be the stepping stone for new research for those novice historians who want to write about someone who has been stuck in the shadow for centuries. If you would like to read short stories about royal women who have stayed in the background for a long time, I highly recommend you read “Forgotten Royal Women: The King and I” by Erin Lawless.

Book Review: “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation” by Kathryn Warner

43661739In medieval England, the queens were almost as famous, or infamous, as their husbands. In most cases, they came from royal backgrounds and their sons would become kings. That, however, was the case for Philippa of Hainault, the wife of King Edward III. She tends to be forgotten when it comes to discussing her famous husband, her infamous mother-in-law Isabella of France, and her sons whose children would go on to shape English history forever. That is until now. Kathryn Warner has decided to discover the truth about this rather remarkable woman in her latest biography, “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this informative biography. It looked rather intriguing and this was the first time that I have read a book by Kathryn Warner. This was an absolute joy to read.

Warner begins by explaining Philippa of Hainault’s immediate family. As a queen, she had a rather unusual upbringing since she was the daughter of Willem, Count of Hainault and Holland and his wife Jeanne de Valois (whose brothers and sisters would be kings and queens throughout Europe). Philippa’s husband was Edward III, whose parents were King Edward II and Isabella of France (who did not get along at all, especially over the issue of Hugh Despenser). Philippa and Edward III came from rather different backgrounds, but they were married so that Philippa’s father could help Isabella of France with her invasion of England, which resulted in the abdication of her husband and her son becoming the new King of England. An unusual reason to get married, but it actually worked rather well.

Isabella of France and her partner in crime, Roger Mortimer, were hoping that Edward III was going to be like a puppet king, but they were wrong. Edward III did things his own way, wife his beloved wife Philippa by his side. While Edward III was taking care of domestic and foreign issues, Philippa was raising their large family. Their sons and daughters included Edward of Woodstock “The Black Prince”, Isabella of Woodstock, Lionel of Antwerp, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley, and Thomas of Woodstock. Although they did have a large family, none of their children would become King or Queen of England; it would be Edward of Woodstock’s son, Edward and Philippa’s grandson, Richard of Bordeaux who would become King Richard II. It was the descendants of Edward and Philippa’s sons and daughters that would go and shape the conflict that would be known as the Wars of the Roses.

Another lasting legacy of Edward III was the beginning of a conflict between England and France that would be known as the Hundred Years’ War. It started when Edward III declared war on Philippa’s maternal uncle King Philip VI of France. Talk about family drama. But family drama was nothing new for Philippa since she was connected to many kings, queens, emperors, and empresses throughout Europe through marriage and there were times where her husband would get into disagreements with her extended family. That was the nature of medieval Europe, but it never affected her relationship with Edward III. Around this time, the Black Death was beginning to leave its mark on Europe, hitting many families including Edward III and Philippa of Hainault’s children.

Kathryn Warner brought Philippa of Hainault into the spotlight that she deserved with a delightful plethora of details combined with an eloquent writing style. Warner does repeat facts in her book, but as someone who is a novice in studying this time period, it was rather useful for me to have her repeat these facts. I enjoyed this book immensely and it really helped me understand her story and the legacy that her family left behind for England and for Europe. If you want a great book about Philippa of Hainault and her family, I highly recommend you read, “Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage

34411961The 16th century was filled with extremely strong women who went on to shape European and world history forever. This was true for England and Scotland, two countries whose stories were intertwined by powerful women. The women who ruled these two countries during this time were women that those who study this time period know about; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. There was one woman who knew all four of these women and lived for over 80 years: Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. The story of these five women is told in Jill Armitage’s book, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning how different people in the 16th century interacted with one another, plus I didn’t know a whole lot about Bess of Hardwick and I wanted to learn more about her.

Armitage begins her book by exploring Bess of Hardwick’s family and how they rose in power so that Bess could serve royalty. It was interesting to learn about her family and the four husbands that Bess married throughout her life: Robert Barlow, Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Bess also had numerous children and grandchildren who would go to be influential in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. I really wish Armitage had included family trees of the different families that were involved in her book to make it easier for the readers to understand the connections, which are vital for the stories mentioned in this particular book.

The story of Bess of Hardwick’s life begins at the height of the reign of the Tudor when Henry VIII is on the throne and ends with the beginning of the Stuarts Dynasty so Armitage does include the lives of the women who shaped these times. Armitage begins with how Henry VII and Henry VIII came to the throne, marching swiftly through the six wives of Henry VIII until reaching the reign of Henry VIII’s son King Edward VI. It is here where the pace of the book slows down a bit and we dive into the lives of the Grey family and how Bess of Hardwick knew them and how the family’s legacy came to an abrupt end with the execution of Lady Jane Grey. Armitage then explores the reigns of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots and how Bess of Hardwick connects all three vivacious women.

Here is where I have another problem with this particular book; it is too short (less than 300 pages) when discussing all the history that Armitage has in it. Some parts felt like a review and other parts felt like facts were flying and she didn’t go into enough detail to explain it all. I feel like Armitage was a bit ambitious for the idea of this book and that if she wrote a bit more, the book would have flowed a lot better than it did.

Overall, I found this book rather interesting and relatively easy to understand. Armitage has a writing style that is readable. This is a great book for those who are being introduced to the Tudor dynasty, but for those who know about this time period, it feels like a review. If you are interested in learning about the connection between these five women, I recommend you read, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage.

Book Review: “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg

61QD1AenNQL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_The study of the Tudors tends to focus on England as a country of focus, however the Tudors did affect other countries like Spain, France, and Scotland. Many know the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her relationship with Elizabeth I, but many do not know the tale of her mother, Marie de Guise. Her tale is one of love for her family and her adoptive country of Scotland. It is of loyalty and strength to do what she believed was right. She was a sister, a daughter, a mother, a queen, and a regent of Scotland. Marie’s story tends to be overshadowed by her daughter’s tragic tale, until now.  Her story is the main focus of Melanie Clegg’s latest biography, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this pleasant biography. I knew quite a bit about her daughter, but Marie de Guise is just as remarkable and deserves to be told. 

Clegg begins her biography in the most unusual way, but starting with the death of King James V, Marie de Guise’s second husband. This event, as Clegg will show, radically alters the path that Marie will take. Of course, Marie’s life took many turns, even from her early years. Marie de Guise was the eldest daughter of Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise. Her family, the Lorraines, were extremely close and very loyal to King Francois I of France, especially her father Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Guise. Clegg  explores Marie’s formative years, both with her paternal grandmother Philippa de Geulders, Dowager Duchesse de Lorraine, and inside the glamorous court of Francois I, and how both experiences shaped Marie into the remarkable woman she would become. 

It was truly a twist of fate that Marie de Guise would marry King James V of Scotland, who was her second husband. Marie was first married to Louis d’Orleans, Duc de Longueville and King James V was married to Princess Madeleine. However, both Louis and Madeleine died rather young, so Marie and James V both had to look for new spouses. James V wanted a French marriage, but he was not the only monarch who was looking for a bride. His uncle King Henry VIII just lost his third wife to illness and was trying to woo Marie. To say things did not go Henry’s way would be an understatement as Marie became Queen of Scotland. 

It was in Scotland where we see Marie’s true colors come out in full force. Clegg shows that although Marie loved James, things were not smooth sailing as they would have hoped. Marie’s daughter Mary Stewart, later Mary Queen of Scots, was born only a few days before her father’s untimely death shortly after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. Such a triumph turned tragedy would have been agonizing for anyone to deal with, but Marie de Guise knew that she had to stay strong for her daughter. As Regent of Scotland, until Mary came of age, Marie did battle, both physical and spiritual, with every Tudor monarch, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. 

This book was a joy to read. Melanie Clegg was able to make a biography read like a novel, yet stay informative and academic. I did not know what to expect, since this was the first book by Melanie Clegg that I have ever read, but from page one I was hooked. This was the first biography about Marie de Guise that I have ever read and now I want to read more about her. If you would like to read an engaging biography about Mary, Queen of Scots vivacious mother Marie de Guise, I highly recommend you read, “Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise” by Melanie Clegg.

Book Review: “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler

9781445690537 (1)Words have a lot of power, especially when it comes to how we perceive historical figures. It can be through letters, chronicles, biographies, and this instance, through a couplet written by William Collynbourne in 1484. The couplet in question goes; “The Catte, the Ratte, and Lovell Our Dogge Rule All England Under the Hogge”. The Catte and the Ratte refer to two men; Sir William Ratcliffe and Sir William Catsby respectively, who were associated with King Richard III, whose badge was a white boar or a hog. “Lovell our Dogge” refers to Sir Francis Lovell, who was an ally and close friend of the king. Who was Sir Francis Lovell and how did he become Richard III’s closest friend? Michele Schindler dives into the life of Sir Francis Lovell to figure out who he really was in her debut biography, “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. I knew about the couplet, but I never knew about Sir Francis Lovell and his remarkable life. 

Schindler begins her beautiful biography with the birth of Francis and his twin sister Joan. It is very unusual to read about twins especially in medieval England so it was interesting to read how this affected how they were raised. We are also introduced to the rest of the Lovell family,  finding out the origins of the family, and learn how noble children like Francis and Joan were raised. This part is important in understanding Francis and his loyalties because it is at this time when he was introduced to the Yorkists who would change his life; Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, King Edward IV, and Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III. It is also in these formative years that Francis marries his loyal and loving wife Anne (Fitzhugh) Lovell. It is great to have a firm foundation when understanding a historical figure and Schindler provides the reader that foundation.

The center of Schindler’s book is Francis’ relationship with his best friend, Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would become King Richard III. It is a unique relationship because if you only know about Francis through the couplet, it makes Sir Francis Lovell sound like someone who desired power. In fact, documents provided by Schindler suggests quite the opposite. He was rather quiet when it came to politics, even though he held quite prominent roles in Richard III’s government. His loyalty to Richard III never faltered, even after the king’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Francis helped with several rebellions, the most famous one was the Lambert Simnel Rebellion, even though he was not noted to have taken part. 

Sir Francis Lovell’s life was complex yet he remains an enigma for scholars of the Wars of the Roses. Schindler masterfully blends an eloquent writing style with meticulously researched details to create this illuminating biography. Before I started this book, I only knew about Sir Francis Lovell through the famous couplet, but now I want to know more about him and his family. This maybe Schindler’s debut biography, but I look forward to reading more books by her in the future. If you would like an engaging biography about a man who was central in the government of Richard III, I highly suggest you check out, “Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler.

“Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide” by Michele Schindler will be available in the United States on October 1st. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link below: https://www.amazon.com/Lovell-our-Dogge-Viscount-Regicide/dp/1445690535/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Lovell+our+Dogge%3A+The+Life+of+Viscount+Lovell%2C+Closest+Friend+of+Richard+III+and+Failed+Regicide&qid=1567661947&s=gateway&sr=8-1

 

Book Review: “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton

51qnw6zqydL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Henry VII  winning at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, is viewed as the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. However, the story of the Tudor family goes back centuries in Wales. What we consider the story of the Tudors tends to start with a man named Owen Tudor, a servant, who fell in love and married the dowager Queen of England, Catherine of Valois. Quite a romantic tale, but how much of it is true? Were the Tudors simple folk or did they have a bigger role to play in their native Wales? What roles did Owen and his sons play in the Wars of the Roses? These questions and more are explored in Terry Breverton’s latest biography, “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this fascinating biography. Owen Tudor is someone that has always interested me, so I was quite delighted to find out that Breverton had written the first biography about this extraordinary man and his life. 

Breverton begins by exploring the origins of the Tudors and how the Welsh bards were the ones who helped preserve the history and prophecies of Wales for future generations. One such prophecy was the prophecy of Cadwaladr, which speaks of the red dragon of Cadwaladr defeating the white dragons of those who the Welsh considered barbarians. It was also the Welsh who believed that a mab darogan (“the son of prophecy”) would conquer England. Breverton must discuss these ideas because they would help the Tudors gather support that was necessary for future victories. Breverton also discusses the history of Wales and England and the Glyndwr War. He explores the Tudor family tree and how Owen Tudor’s ancestors were very influential in the decisions that Wales made in these critical years. I found this part extremely fascinating to read because casual readers of the Wars of the Roses do not read about Welsh history and the Tudor ancestors, which is vital to understand how they were able to come out victorious in the end.

Breverton also explores the family history of Catherine of Valois and how she came to marry  King Henry V and her relationship with her first son, King Henry VI. However, the center of Breverton’s book is centered around the relationship between Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. He describes it as the “strangest marriage in English history”, but unlike other scholars, Breverton believes that an actual marriage did happen between Owen and Catherine. Their sons, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, would prove extremely important men during the Wars of the Roses, and tried to bridge the gap between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Breverton was able to track down where Owen was during his service during the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses through his sons and through government records of the time, until his death shortly after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on February 4, 1461. The one thing I wish Breverton would have included were maps of Wales, England, and France so it would be easier to understand which towns fell and where battles were fought.

Breverton does a superb job shedding light on Owen Tudor’s fascinating life and legacy. It was an absolute joy to read, I didn’t want it to end. This was my first time reading a book by Terry Breverton and now I want to read more of his books. Breverton blends an easy to understand writing style while maintaining scrupulous attention to details. You can tell that Breverton meticulously researched Owen Tudor and the events that shaped him. This may be the first biography about Owen Tudor, but I don’t think it will be the last. If you want to read a fabulous biography about Owen Tudor and the origins of the Tudor Dynasty, I highly encourage you to read “Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton. 

“Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty” by Terry Breverton will be published in the US on November 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order a copy of this book, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Owen-Tudor-Founding-Father-Dynasty/dp/1445694379/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Owen+Tudor+Founding+Father+of+the+Tudor+Dynasty&qid=1566589023&s=books&sr=1-1

Book Review: “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley

51+Uk6sMNqL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)In history, many people tend to focus on the big names. The kings and queens, the rebels, and those who really made an impact. The political advisors and men of the church tend to get left behind in the dust since they are not seen as “important”. However, it is these men who were the backbone of the monarchy, who helped make the king’s vision come to fruition. They tend to come and go, so that is why John Morton’s story is so extraordinary. John Morton helped three separate kings of England, was the enemy to a fourth king, tried to reform the church, and had numerous building projects. His life tends to be overshadowed by the kings that he served, but his life is brought into the light in this biography by Stuart Bradley, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Morton’s life and his service to the kings he served was rather fascinating to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Like any good biography, Bradley begins by exploring John Morton’s life before he moved up the ranks to work with kings through his collegiate career, which was rather impressive. It is imperative to understand Morton’s education and background to show what type of skills he brought to the political and ecclesiastical positions that he would have later on in his life. Morton caught the eye of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourgchier, who helped Morton get into his position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall, which put him in direct contact with Prince Edward of Westminster, Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King Henry VI. He served King Henry VI until his death in 1471. 

Morton could have decided to live as an exile during the reign of Edward IV, but instead, he accepted a royal pardon and decided to work with the Yorkist king. This may seem like an unusual step for a man who was once loyal to the Lancasterian cause, but Morton was loyal to his country first and foremost. During this time, he helped establish peace with France and became the Bishop of Ely. When Edward IV died and his sons disappeared from records, Morton could have retired, since he was in his mid-sixties at this point, but instead, he leads a rebellion against King Richard III, with young Henry Tudor as his choice for the next king. Morton helped arrange for Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York to be married, as well as help Henry VII stop the pretenders from taking the English throne. Under King Henry VII, Morton worked non-stop as both Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, to guide the king and to ensure the survival of the dynasty, until his death in 1500.

It is remarkable to see how much Morton did during his lifetime in politics, for the church, and the building projects. Morton was one of those figures that I honestly did not know a lot about before I read this book, but now I want to know more about him. Bradley obviously thoroughly researched Morton’s life and times and is able to articulate this research in this engaging biography. If you want a fantastic biography about a rather remarkable man who helped England navigate through the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, I highly recommend you read, “John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors” by Stuart Bradley.

Book Review: “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’” by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill

A1EHw9PpVwLThe English conflict known as the Wars of the Roses is filled with dynamic figures whose stories are those of legends. None more so than the wife of Edward IV and the mother of Elizabeth of York and the princes in the Tower, Elizabeth Woodville. She has been known in popular culture as the commoner turned “White Queen” consort, but do we really know the true story about her life? Was she really Edward IV’s wife? How much influence did she actually carry? These questions and more are tackled in Dr. John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book, “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have had my eyes on this particular title for a while since I like learning about the women of the Wars of the Roses, and because I have never read a book by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill.

Since I was not familiar with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill and his work before I read this book, I decided to look into him in order to understand the position he might take on this particular topic. He is a medieval historian, who mainly focuses on Yorkist history. His main claim to fame was when he helped find the location where Richard III’s remains were buried. He also traced the female-line descendants of Richard III to his sister, which established the mtDNA haplogroup that was necessary to identify the remains found in the Leicester parking lot as Richard III. For this important research, Dr. John Ashdown-Hill was awarded an MBE in 2015 but sadly passed away from motor neurone disease on May 18, 2018. This was one of the last books he had ever written.

Knowing this information about Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, it helps to understand that he knows this subject rather well. He does show his knowledge through the family trees, the letters, and the tables that he does include. These sources give the reader an understanding of where Ashdown-Hill is coming from and a different perspective on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times in the courts of Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Ashdown-Hill does use his own books quite frequently as sources, which can come across as braggadocious at times.

Ashdown-Hill refers to Elizabeth Widville as the ‘Pink Queen’ because, at different times in her life, she was supporting the Lancastrians and the Yorkists causes. I do agree with this terminology because it does tell her story in a colorful way. However, it is his calling Elizabeth Edward IV’s ‘chief mistress’ where I do have an issue. Personally, I believe that Elizabeth was Edward’s wife, but Ashdown-Hill believes that Edward’s pre-contract with one Eleanor Talbot was valid and that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was bigamous. This is a central point in this book, but he does not really go into the depth that I wished he would have gone into to explain his point of view.

Another part of his book that I do not exactly agree with is his assessment of how many deaths Elizabeth was associated with, including possibly poisoning George Duke of Clarence’s wife and young son. He does not take into account illnesses as possible causes of death and jumps straight into malicious intentions, mostly by Elizabeth herself. Ashdown- Hill can come across as either passionate or brash in his writing style, which can be a bit off-putting at times. It feels like, at least to me, that Elizabeth was either treated as a villain or was in the background for this particular biography, instead of in the spotlight, which is something one would expect in a biography about a certain person.

Although I do not entirely agree with Dr. John Ashdown- Hill’s assessment of Elizabeth Widville’s life, I do respect the amount of research he obviously poured into this book. It is meticulously researched and I found it a unique experience to read a different perspective from my own. I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of this book, as I did have to stop reading it and come back to it several times to get my head around what he was saying since it was different than what I accept as fact about her life. However, I do believe that it is important to read books and authors who you don’t agree with in order to expand one’s knowledge about a topic. If you are a fan of Dr. John Ashdown-Hill or you would like to read a unique take on Elizabeth Widville’s life and times, I would suggest you read “Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’”.

Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’ by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill will be published in the United States on November 2, 2019. If you are interested in pre-ordering this book, you can follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress/dp/1526745011/

Book Review: “Richard III: Fact and Fiction” by Matthew Lewis

41093351When one looks at the study of history as a whole, the traditional way to look at a person as either good or bad through a combination of facts and fictional tales of their supposed exploits. None so much so as King Richard III, one of the most controversial English monarchs. Fictitious tales, like William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, have been accepted as fact throughout the centuries, but who was the real Richard III? Matthew Lewis, in his latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”, explores who Richard III really was by separating the facts from the fictional stories. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this insightful book. I enjoy books that explore both the facts and fictional stories of historical figures to find the truth about who they were and what they might have been like. 

In his introduction, Lewis explains the fascination of Richard III and his aim for this particular book.

The debate around Richard III and his reputation burns hotter today than ever before …Why is a man who was killed in battle over 500 years ago still attracting such passionate debate? How does a medieval king who reigned for only just over two years have a thriving fan club in the Richard III Society? Part of the reason lies in the mythologising of the facts about him, so many of which are open to the broadest interpretation so that both sides will claim them to make polar opposite points. The purpose of this book is to try and peel away some of the myths to reveal the bare, unadorned facts. Did Richard III invent bail? Did he murder a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, a king, his brother and his two nephews? Did he mean to marry his niece? Why did those previously loyal to the House of York abandon Richard III for an obscure Welshman in exile? (Lewis,1).

Lewis tackles some of the most notable and notorious myths about Richard III, most of which came from Shakespeare’s play. He explores myths from the “murder” of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VI, to if Richard wanted to marry Elizabeth of York and why he was so popular in the North and his death at Bosworth. Of course, there are also obscure and out-of-left-field myths, like Richard, killing Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset at the tender age of 2 and a half, and Richard inventing bail. Along with discussing the fictional stories and the veracity of the claims, Lewis includes some fun factoids and a glossary of terms that the readers might not know at the end of each segment.  

Although Lewis is a Ricardian, the way he presents his arguments against the fictitious tales does not push the Ricardian argument of Richard being a purely innocent individual. Instead, Lewis focuses on making Richard more human rather than either a vile villain or a knight in shining armor. This is what I appreciate about Lewis and his approach to Richard III. He makes the study of  Richard III approachable for those who want to study about the man, not the black or white myths. With this particular book, I couldn’t put it down. I found extremely enjoyable and overall fascinating. If you want a book that brings the fictional tales and examining the facts about Richard III, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’ latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”. It is a re-evaluation of the facts that Richard III deserves.

Book Review: “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy

43211731 (1)Strong medieval women who helped lead armies were unusual phenomena. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and  Margaret of Anjou, have been seen as “she-wolves” and their stories have lived on for centuries. They were all queens, but strong women from the past could be of any rank, even though their stories are not celebrated as much. Take, for example, the story of Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany. She was a wife and mother who protected Hennebont Castle in Brittany from the French in 1342 while her husband was held captive. She then leaves her beloved Brittany for the court of Edward III of England and all but disappears from the historical record until her death in 1374. What happened to this extraordinary woman and why did she disappear from the historical records? Julie Sarpy answers these questions and more in her book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Before I read this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Joanna of Flanders or the part she played in protecting Brittany from France.

In the past, historians, especially Arthur Le Moyne de La Borderie,  have claimed that Joanna was held in confinement by Edward III because she went “mad”. However, Sarpy does not agree with this assessment of her life and she hopes to change that view with this book, as she explains in her introduction:

This book strives to set the record straight about Joanna of Flanders through a fresh reading of legal and administrative records, narrative accounts and comparative studies. It seeks to reveal the pretense behind her guardianship and the means by which Edward III of England perpetrated a hoax. I have tried to separate the facts from fiction and reconcile the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life after October 1343 when she retired to Yorkshire with the known record. Centrally, it is an attempt to demonstrate that her captivity at the hands of Edward III was purposeful and politically motivated. Unfortunately, since then, some authors have been complicit in the sullying of her reputation by claiming she was incarcerated due to mental defect and I seek to correct that. (Sarpy, 10). 

Sarpy introduces her readers to the complex relationship between Brittany, France, and England, as well as the de Montforts and the Blois- Penthievre faction that all played a part in the First Breton Civil War. It is these relationships that are crucial to understanding the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life. The siege of Hennebont showed Joanna as a threat to Edward III’s plans for Brittany, so he had to do something about her. Joanna takes her children to England and Edward III will eventually send her to Tickhill Castle. Sarpy explores mental illness, the medieval laws towards protecting them and about the confinement of the nobility. What Sarpy does very well is that she shows examples of legal cases as well as those who were mad and compared their stories to Joanna’s own story. 

Sarpy’s book contains a ton of information, both historical and legal, but it is relatively easy to understand. As I stated earlier, I didn’t know anything about Joanna of Flanders before I read this book and I did take copious amounts of notes. This book tells the story of Joanna of Flanders in such a way that those who are not familiar with her legacy can understand, yet it also sheds new light for those who knew her story beforehand. Julie Sarpy’s book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” was an enlightening read and I recommend it to those who are interested in learning about Joanna of Flanders, Edward III, the early years of the Hundred Years’ War, and mental illness and confinement in medieval Europe. 

“Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy will be released in the US on October 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order this book, you can find more information here: https://www.amazon.com/Joanna-Flanders-Heroine-Julie-Sarpy/dp/1445688549/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Joanna+of+Flanders%3A+Heroine+and+Exile&qid=1562077490&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-catcorr